Blog: Reflections on 2020 and look forward to 2021

Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan looks back at Theatres Trust response to Covid-19 and outlines plans for next year.

Since mid-March the theatre industry has faced unprecedented challenges that none of us could have predicted this time last year. In response, we refocused our work at Theatres Trust to support theatres to deal with the immediate and longer-term issues arising from the lockdown and restrictions.

We expanded our free advice service, taking on an additional consultant adviser, creating a Skills Bank to match theatres with pro bono support from our industry contacts and running a series of free webinars. More than 250 theatres have benefitted from this support since March.

In the event of the worst-case scenario of theatre operators going into administration, we implemented a Rapid Response Programme, to open up conversations between administrators, freeholders, local authorities, campaign groups and potential operators to find ways to retain empty buildings for future cultural use. Thankfully, there has so far only been a few cases where this has been needed and we continue to work with interested parties in those areas.

We have worked alongside colleagues across the sector to make the case for theatre to government. With our specialist focus on theatre buildings, we highlighted the plight of theatres undertaking or planning capital projects that had been delayed and seen increased costs due to Covid-19. It was therefore welcome to see more than 30 theatres receive funding through the Capital Kickstart Fund element of the Culture Recovery Fund.

With concerns about theatre buildings left empty due to the pandemic, we were pleased that MHCLG responded so positively to our proposals to make changes to the planning system to give greater protections to theatres including the introduction of regulations that will prevent theatres being demolished without planning permission.

Our existing small grants schemes were repurposed to create the Theatre Reopening Fund, which has distributed more than £150k so far to help 35 theatres reopen safely after prolonged closure and in line with new safety guidelines. We also partnered with Crowdfunder on the #SaveOurTheatres fundraising campaign, which has raised almost £1.5m (including Gift Aid) for 60 theatres from more than 21,000 supporters

Looking forward to 2021

Undoubtedly, we will continue to help theatres navigate the challenges caused by the pandemic well into 2021 and our work will evolve as we know what the needs of the sector are. But we don’t want to just focus on short-term ‘fire-fighting’, we want to help theatres to bring about real positive changes, in how they engage with their audiences, communities and workforce and our webinars in January and February aim to start these conversations.

Before the pandemic hit, the world was waking up to the urgency of responding to the climate emergency and it remains imperative that the theatre sector rapidly reduces the impact of our business. Theatres Trust has started work on a new project, Making Theatre Sustainable, aiming to develop straightforward, practical advice on the first steps everyone should be taking to make productions, theatre buildings and front-of-house operations sustainable. The first phase looking at production has already started and we will be rolling out the other areas early in 2021.

Improving the sustainability of theatres of course requires investment and we will continue in 2021 to make the case to the government for renewed capital investment in the UK’s enviable stock of theatres so they can continue to serve their communities into the future.

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash